Researching historical costume: Worthing Museum & Art Gallery

So, it turns out, little did I know that Worthing, of all places, has one of the largest costume and textiles collections in the UK. A little seaside town, snug on the South coast, it really is an unassuming little place so, who knew?

You wouldn’t necessarily attach much significance to it like you would the V & A or the Bath Costume museum, but for those who are historic clothing enthusiasts, it’s well worth a visit. They don’t have quite as much on display as the Bath Costume Museum or the V & A, so you won’t be spending more than half a day in their costume department, but if you’re as avid as me about historical clothes then it could be worth going to. Worth going to Worthing…hehehehe…at least I make myself chuckle….

My highlight was the 1760s court mantua gown which you can check out in the slideshow below. Just look at the beautiful embroidery and detail? It’s missing it’s own detailed and patterned stomacher and petticoat – hence the plain lavender silk – so don’t go thinking that this was all there was to this dress! It has the slightly flared sleeves and lace at the elbows which faded out during the 1770s. I have to say it was about my size – perhaps I should ask if they’re up for selling it?

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Well, the mantua was my highlight, and the shoes of course! These were all rather delightful:


The shoes decrease in age as you go up in this image. Don’t you just love how the Victorian shoes on the top row are harking back to what are known as Louis XIV heels?


The pumps on the left and in the middle are both made of kid leather – for those Georgette Heyer readers among you, you’ll like that…and the ones on the right are made from satin. All of them are c.1820

As I’m now researching and writing a new novel set back in the Regency era, around 1814-15 to be exact, I am once again enjoying the dresses of the period:

Pelisse and Spencer Jacket c.1820 | Historical Dress | Philippa Jane Keyworth

Military style yellow pelisse (women’s long coat) and Spencer jacket (short style jacket). My mum pointed out that the latter looks spooky in it’s odd hovering display arrangement!

Spencer Jacket and Regency Dress c.1820 | Historical Dress | Philippa Jane Keyworth

Spencer jacket and white muslin dress with decorated edge and embroidered hem c.1820 – look at that waist!

I should add, there wasn’t much in the way of 18th or 19th Century menswear which is why my photos are heavily female orientated. That, and the fact that I happen to be slightly more interested in the clothing I might have worn if I had been born back then!

Aside from the 18th century and Regency attire on display I was treated to some early and mid-Victorian dresses. It was lovely seeing some early 1850 dresses which would have been similar to those worn by Margaret Hale in North and South which I recently read.


From the top left clockwise we have a dress c.1880 of dark grey and olive silk complete with button down chest and rear bustle. Then in the largest photo we have a blue damask dress c.1850 finished with a chemisette (a section of white muslin or cotton which made it seem as though the wearer had a full shirt on beneath the dress – it was for modesty). Finally, and the most striking of the three for me is a lavender silk dress c.1850 with wide loose sleeves, tassels dropping down the front to cover the button and a beautiful silk with natural swirling patterning occurring within it.

I really don’t know what it is about historic dress that fascinates me, but it really does do just that, fascinates me. I can spend ages staring at the line of a dress, the embroidery of a sleeve and the shape of a heel.





Visit Worthing Museum if you fancy a gander – they have a much larger collection of 20th century clothing and accessories on display which I didn’t photograph as well as some fantastic old photos – like a display on weddings every decade from the late Victorian period until the 1970s!



3 thoughts on “Researching historical costume: Worthing Museum & Art Gallery

  1. nmayer2015

    Lovely look in . Some times I wonder how women wore some of those clothes. Ido like the regency dresses.


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